Saturday, February 28, 2009

Just a Bunch of Stuff

The other week, obviously when we were still in the deep freeze, I met the younger daughter down in Chicago for the day. She is on an internship, living in our condo, and thinking this must be what it’s like to be a grown up, minus the rent bill. It has given me plenty of reasons to go downtown for the weekend or just even a day. I never take advantage of the opportunities we have with Chicago being so close. We have promised ourselves to take some of the neighborhood tours the city offers in the summer to become more familiar with the place we call home. But, I digress.
Here’s what I really meant to write about today. We meandered through Millennium Park and through the Lurie Gardens. I was there late last spring when the salvia was in bloom and it looked just like an ocean, with wide swaths of blue. It’s all well and good to have a garden that looks great in spring and summer, but what about winter? What do you look at then? Perennial grasses are one thing you can plant to give you winter interest. The grasses we saw were some type of miscanthus, judging by the seed head. There are several other grass varieties that also look good in the perennial garden, or even as specimen plantings (meaning they look good just on their own.) These would include the calamagrostis (feather reed grass), pennisetums ( fountain grasses), and panicums (switch grass). I think the miscanthus is one of the best, with lots of cultivars from which to choose.
These pictures I think really illustrate another topic we talk about when designing a garden and that is structure. Just what does the designer mean when he/she talks about structure in the garden? One of my favorite garden writers, Joe Eck, says that structure is what is visible at a distance and can be seen in winter. So, we leave perennial grasses unpruned for the winter as a way to add structure to the garden.

Structural elements in the garden aren’t necessarily always botanic, i.e. plants. They can be pieces of garden art, statuary, or even a strategically placed bench or gate. This gazing globe was in one of the planters in front of some hotel. I love glass and the swirls in this globe are really beautiful. At times during the year when nothing is blooming, like mid-summer or the dead of winter, here is a little color to cheer you up.

One more thing-- we often talk about how to provide winter protection for plants and shrubs that need some extra TLC in our part of the country. This is boxwood down at Millennium Park. It is a broad leaf evergreen, in other words, it has a leaf like the deciduous trees or shrubs, but because it is evergreen it doesn't drop its leaves in the fall. Therefore they are subject to drying out over the winter. In Chicago, being close to the lake, they may not have the dry winds that we do out here. The Park District has made a low fence with burlap to protect the plants. We would recommend using a product called Wilt Pruf or any other anti transpirant to provide additional protection and it probably wouldn't hurt to give your broad leaf evergreens (box, azalea, rhododendrons, etc.) another application now, since we can still get some cold dry weather.

Say, rumor has it that Heather at The Barn and her husband are expecting a baby in August. Be sure to stop by and wish Heather all the best and then come on by Countryside to see all of us.

Don’t forget the Flower and Garden Show this year down at Navy Pier. It runs March 7-15 and offers lots of seminars on gardening and cooking (two of my favorite things). So head on down to Navy Pier and get inspired.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Welcome Back!

I love this time of year. The days are noticeable longer, when I get home from work it is still light out, and the snow that falls doesn’t usually stick, in short, there is hope that spring will be here eventually. Last weekend I even rode my bike into town for breakfast.
To the untrained eye, this plant may look dead. Even to the trained eye it might look dead, as Michael gave it the last rites when he saw it in December. I don’t even know what it is called, but it has lovely velvety purple flowers in the summer. Anyway I brought it inside last October and almost immediately it dropped all its leaves. I resisted the temptation to keep watering it, only watering when the soil was dry, about once every two weeks or so. This did give me some hope that it was still alive, since if it were actually dead the soil would have stayed wet. It has started to grow, sending out new green shoots. They are rather long and lanky, since it doesn’t get a lot of light in the room that it is in but at least I didn’t kill it.
My hibiscus, which is now going on year three, is also looking pretty robust and I have been having to water more frequently, another sign that it is coming out of its dormancy. I even had a few blooms this winter.

A project I wrote about last October is coming along great. I decided to force some bulbs for an early indoor spring. I planted them in a shallow container and put them in a paper bag in the refrigerator. When the stair well to my basement got cold enough I put the bag there to continue the chilling process. Spring blooming bulbs need to be chilled in order to bloom. The amount of chill time depends on the type of bulb. You can read about it on the previous blog or go to Van Bloem web site to learn more about forcing bulbs. Anyway I had sort of forgotten about them until a few weeks ago. I retrieved them and put them in my dining room, which is usually pretty cool. It has been about a month and they are now starting to bloom. It is important to turn the container as they do have a tendency to grow toward a light source and turning the container will help to keep them growing straight. After they have finished blooming I will transplant them outside. I could also let them go dormant and dry the bulbs, then plant them in the fall.